Giving Up The Crown

Twenty-four-year-old Alyson Grinestaff electrifies a cheering crowd of fans as she gallops across the rodeo arena. A cloud of dust trails in the air behind her. Tonight, Miss Rodeo Montana is the center of attention with thousands of spectators watching as her long blonde curls spill from beneath her cowboy hat. With a mega-watt smile on her face, she proudly carries Old Glory as if she's carried out this honorary practice her entire life.

Kicking off the rodeo action is just one of the hats Alyson wears as Montana's "First Lady of Rodeo." Normally, at the end of her reign in December, Miss Rodeo Montana would be packing her bags and heading to the city that never sleeps -- Las Vegas, Nevada -- to represent Montana and compete on the national stage for the title of Miss Rodeo America. It's a dream job being able to travel the nation as the official representative of rodeo.

It's a trip Alyson Grinestaff will never get the chance to take.

“It was a very hard decision to make,” says Alyson about her recent and heartbreaking decision to hang up her Miss Rodeo Montana sash. “When you have the title, everyone knows you. There are expectations.” With a dazzling smile, she continues saying, "I dreamed of wearing the silver crown since I was a little girl." An old family home movie proves that fact and shows four-year-old Alyson waving the "old rodeo queen salute" to her proud mom and younger sister as her dad leads her around on a horse.

It was the time spent on a horse that led to Alyson's twist of fate. “It wasn’t until June and July that I really started my riding appearances,” says Alyson, reflecting on her 2013 rodeo year. As her riding schedule got more vigorous, “I had pain in my lower back that kept intensifying.” With the pain screaming, Alyson knew it could no longer be ignored.

Just two weeks into July and roughly four months away from the national competition, Alyson underwent an MRI. “My doctor called that afternoon,” she says, her voice dipping slightly. The results revealed she had two levels of bulging discs in her lower back. If she ever wanted to heal and avoid surgery, riding a horse was off limits. “It was heartbreaking when my doctor told me this.” As she cleared her crammed calendar of appearances, Alyson knew her obligations as well as her title were on the fence. She says, "There were lots of tears."

Three days after her MRI and after 29 rodeo appearances all across the state, Alyson surrendered her Miss Rodeo Montana status along with the silver crown.

"We get sidelined and go through a grieving process but we learn a lot. It’s humbling,” Alyson admits. “You go from the glitz and glamour and you come to a complete halt. It was heart breaking to give it up.”

“It was a bit of a shock,” says Jody Rempel, the national director for Miss Rodeo Montana. “However, we’re mostly concerned about Alyson. You can’t change it. You have to come to terms with it and move on. I know Alyson will go on and do other great things but, yes, it’s sad that it had to happen.”


To see just what Alyson gave up, you have to take a look at her history and her roots. She is the first to admit that she's learned from one of the best. "My mom, who is a former Miss Rodeo Washington (Myra Pearce), saw my passion for pageants and horses. She has helped me a lot.”

As a representative of Rodeo, you have to be able to talk with ease about the cowboy life. For Alyson, ranch life runs deep through her veins. She grew up on the Pryor Creek Ranch learning what it was like to put in a day’s work alongside her dad, Marcus Grinestaff. “I liked helping the cowboys with cattle,” recalls Alyson. It’s the cowboy way that profoundly reflects her true grit and her love of a lifestyle that can be, many times, far from glamorous. After all, dawn comes early with animals to feed, water and herd before you even think of heading out the door for school.

"I loved every minute of it,” she says. “It taught me a tremendous work ethic and to not be afraid to do anything.” With a fire in her voice, she shares, "God gave me this passion and I feel it runs through my blood."


It wasn't long before her passion for rodeo poured into other areas of Alyson's life. With her love of horses, her experience on the ranch, and her mother's encouragement, Alyson was set on the path to rodeo queen pageantry. “I found I had a natural affinity for it,” remarks the young lady that had the special ‘wave’ down pat at the age of four.

Alyson recognized early on that merely dreaming didn’t cut it for the type of iconic stardom she sought. The road to queen of the rodeo takes relentless determination with a big dose of blood, sweat and tears. She worked hard to attain the royal titles. She took a shot at the Little Miss Pageant when she was 11, but, “I was too tall for Little Miss,” laughs Alyson. Five years later, she served the Home of Champions PRCA Rodeo in Red Lodge as princess and as its queen for two years running.

"This was the limelight for me when the crown went around my hat,” remembers Alyson. “I rode horseback into the arena with the crowd cheering me on. It was quite a thrill!” She learned first-hand what it was like to hear the deep voice of the rodeo announcer booming over the loud speakers, calling her name.

“I wasn’t star-struck,” expresses Alyson. “I had worked really hard to win this title. I felt the accomplishment and the exciting relief that now I get to serve the rodeo.” It's safe to say her mother was one of her biggest fans.  “My mom was excited for me to experience this. She told me it had been the greatest time for her and that she hoped it would be for me. She was very proud and very emotional. My mom cries when she’s happy…but that’s what moms are for!” Since being crowned, Alyson has slipped on her own studded boots and graced the stage and arena with her own graceful, competitive style.

Since Alyson’s reign as Home of Champions’ rodeo queen took place during her first two years of college, she took her horse to Bozeman with her and rode “a lot.” This aided in preparing her for the next big step. After graduating college, she set her sights on the state rodeo pageant title of Miss Rodeo Montana.

“If something is on your heart…then go for it with all your heart,” stresses Alyson. With this motto in mind, she stepped out in faith. “I was ready for it,” she says. It was meant to be.”

The Miss Rodeo Montana title is one that requires more than sheer finesse on horseback. Along with handling a 1,200 pound animal filled with raw power, acute sense and a mind of its own, you better know rodeo history. You need an extensive knowledge of current events and of equine science. It’s essential you know how to speak in public. It helps to look good, too.

Last January, at the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals in Great Falls, this ambitious and statuesque cowgirl, born and bred in Billings and Red Lodge, received the distinguished honor of being crowned Miss Rodeo Montana 2013.  The event galvanized Alyson into the most rewarding race of her career with appearances, speeches, parades and rodeos. She traveled, shook hands, and met state and local leaders while representing Montana’s rodeo industry. She enjoyed every second of the ride until half way through the year.

"We get sidelined and go through a grieving process but we learn a lot. It’s humbling,” Alyson admits. “You go from the glitz and glamour and you come to a complete halt. It was heart breaking to give it up.”


As Alyson hangs up her rodeo crown, she knows there are lessons learned that will always be with her.  She always knew she was never the one holding the reins in the first place. With her faith in God, she knows there is a reason and purpose to everything in life. She admits, "It's been a process letting go of the tasks. I had to stop and take a hard right."  Even though she admits “there’s a sadness” in winding up her glory days as Montana’s First Lady of Rodeo, she resolves to continue serving in the rodeo industry.

“My main focus now is to heal,” she says with deep conviction. “I found out the root cause of the intense pain in my lower back. I have the hope that God will use this for ways I don’t know about. He goes before us and prepares the way. This gives me the encouragement.”

Alyson’s role as Miss Rodeo Montana began like a fairy tale. It was predicted to carry on through this December when she headed to Las Vegas, Nevada, to compete for the title of Miss Rodeo America. The rest of ‘what could’ve been’ may be dashed at this point. For now, Alyson will  go back to training her trusted mare, Liz, for barrel racing after the discs in her back heal.

Her advice to others who have to let their dreams rest for a time is, “Even when we think certain things aren’t possible, keep faith in God. He makes it happen and the barriers we can overcome.”

While she might not wear the crown right now, Alyson Grinestaff remains a rodeo queen at heart. She sits high in the saddle as the Montana sun sets for the day. It’ll be back up and shining gloriously in the morning, as will Alyson.



The job & the ladies called to do it

Miss Rodeo Montana serves as Montana's "First Lady of Rodeo", attending the state's professional rodeo events, appearing in parades, and attending community events throughout the state. She gives media interviews, speaks before countless organizations and even helps put on kiddie rodeos. The job takes high moral and ethical character as well as an ease with public speaking. After all, when Montana makes a showing at some of the larger national rodeos, Miss Rodeo Montana needs to make an appearance as well.

While the nation will be watching who will be crowned Miss Rodeo America this December, for only the second time in the Miss Rodeo Montana's history, Judy Rempel, national director for Miss Rodeo Montana says, "Montana will not have a representative for the Miss Rodeo America competition this year." The organization says it will, however, be back on track for next year. While Montana hasn't yet nabbed the Miss Rodeo America title, Rempel says that we have had many top-10 and top-5 finishers.

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